The Reeds at Runnymede

Magna Carta was 800 Years old in 2015. Barry Turner Explores its Origins and Explains how it came to be the Guiding Spirit for the British and American Constitutions.
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I was brought up on Magna Carta. As a schoolboy in Bury St Edmunds, a rural market town of medieval origins, I learned that it was here, in January 1215, in the once great abbey, that the heads of England’s noble families gathered to pledge mutual support in their opposition to the tyrannical rule of King John. The sequel, 6 months later, was at Runnymede, a riverside meadow between London and Windsor, where John put his seal to a programme of reform called the Charter of Liberties or, subsequently and more famously, Magna Carta.

My introduction to the ‘greatest constitutional document of all times’1 came in the aftermath of a world war against fascism. It made for an inspiring story of an earlier victory over despotism, one, that for young people, was given a lift by tales of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws who ran rings round King John and his villainous Sheriff of Nottingham.

But while it did not take long to discover that Robin Hood was the stuff of legend, the myths attached to...

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